I was recently contacted by Math U See to review a new product of theirs called Spelling You See. Since we love love LOVE Math U See around here (Nate is already planning on strong-arming his wife into using it with his future kids, he'll let her choose the rest of the curriculum, though.) I jumped on the chance!
Spelling You See is not leveled by grade, but by ability as it is mastery based just like the math program. So I had to do some serious research to pick the level I wanted to use. I opted to use Daniel as my guinea pig since he is just getting started in the spelling world. He is eight years old and in 3rd grade, but is not a strong reader so he just started spelling as a school subject recently. I chose Level C, Wild Tales, because he already knows the majority of the phonemes pretty well and can blend them together fairly fluently.
I received an Instructor's Handbook, 2 Student Workbooks: part one and part two, and a package of erasable colored pencils. You can guess which one the kids were drooling over and wanting to use!
The workbooks comprise the main part of the program. These are consumable and can only be used with one child. The concept of the program is fairly simple to implement. The first lesson was a nursery rhyme, Little Boy Blue. Daniel and I followed the instructions that were printed right in his book. First I read the rhyme to him, then we read it together, clapping the rhythm. Then we read it together again with him pointing to the words as we went. Finally, we discussed the lesson focus which was vowel chunks (aka vowel teams). There was quite an extensive list for him to look for in the poem and to mark with his cool erasable colored pencil. Next was copywork. He reproduced the first two lines of Little Boy Blue in his best handwriting. It was the perfect about of work for him.
The second day was a repeat of the first. We read the poem 3 times and then he marked the vowel chunks. Then he did the copywork for the next couple of sentences.
The third day we read the poem again, three times and he marked the vowel chunks and did the copywork, completing the poem.
The fourth day, the reading and marking was the same, but instead of copywork it was "No Rule Day" and the instructions were to "Draw a picture of the rhyme or write your own story." Space and lines were provided for this.
The fifth day we read and marked but instead of copywork, I dictated the poem to him and he wrote it. The first word of each line was provided for him, I assume because capitalization hadn't been discussed yet because this help is phased out over time.
Each of the 36 lessons followed this pattern.
The Instructor's Guide was a thin, but incredibly helpful book. First, it explained the philosophy behind the program which you can read a little bit about here. Then it walked me through what I needed to know to get started. This was not complicated and took only about 5 paragraphs or so. Next it had step by step instructions for the first seven lessons, enough handholding to give even the newest homeschool mama confidence. The process of "chunking" letter patterns is explained and there is a chart and a quick explanation for each type of "chunk" taught in this level. I found this to be a handy at-a-glance reference for me. Copywork, Dictation and No Rule Day were all discussed and explained.
Next in the Guide was a section of FAQ, followed by all of the passages I needed for dictation so I didn't have to flip around in his workbook while he was trying to use it. Next was the answer key (very handy to have!) and finally, a glossary of the phonics terms used in the lessons.
Daniel enjoyed using Spelling You See, especially getting to use the special pencils! He did grow a little weary of listening to the same paragraph over and over and was pretty happy to move on to the non-fiction paragraphs later in the book.
I enjoyed that the program was so easy to use! It took me a few minutes to read through the IG before starting the first day, but after that it was all just open-and-go. This was a low pressure way to teach him to spell and fell in line with our loose Charlotte Mason philosophy pretty well in that it offered short lessons, real life literature to study from, and copywork and dictation to teach.
You can purchase Wild Tales IG for $14 and the student pack (both books and the pencils) for $30. OR and this is the exciting part, you can enter my giveaway to win a FREE complete level of your choosing! Sign up below and I hope you win!
Recently, we were asked to review Under Drake's Flag, an audiobook produced by Heirloom Audio Productions. This is an adaptation of the book by G. A. Henty. Audiobooks are fairly new to us. All of us are visual people and when I tried to get the kids to listen to a book or two in the past it was an uphill battle. Especially the two younger ones. So I was a little concerned about how well it would go.
However, Under Drake's Flag is not just a book read aloud, but is actually an audio drama, which means it is acted out with different actors for each character and sound effects. Moreover, it is a high quality production with professional actors, designers and composers. So our experience this time was a little bit different.
Under Drake's Flag is a fictional story of a boy, Ned, and his friend, Gerald, who, thanks to Ned's bravery, are asked to sail with Sir Francis Drake. The boys have many adventures and narrow escapes but are guided always by their trust in God and their desire to always behave as honorable men. As the story progresses, their courage is also progressively tested with harder and harder trials. They rely on their courage, wits, strategy learned from Drake, and their sense of honor until finally, they face the ultimate test and realize that only God's strength will see them through.
This is a good, clean story that is family friendly and appropriate for kids ages 6 and up. My seven year old daughter had no problems at all listening to the story. She isn't sensitive though, so if you have a child who is, you should probably pre-listen and judge for yourself. The story gets a little tense at times, with battle scenes, discussions of torture, death and a foiled escape. There are a couple of kisses, and a wedding at the end, but otherwise no romantic elements and no bad language at all!
A caution for my Catholic readers, the Inquisition is a main plot point so the Spaniards are the "bad guys" in the story. However, the point is made several times, in several different ways that not all Catholics were bad nor even in favor of the Inquisition. In fact, one pretty little Catholic Spanish girl turns out to be quite a heroine!
A part of the 2 CD set ($29.95) is a little booklet that is a study guide for the story. It consists of questions to help your child recall the story as well as to think through some of the deeper elements in the tale. It is divided into chapters and each chapter has a Listening Well section that asks questions about the story. For example, After the storm, where do the boys find themselves?
There is also a Thinking Further section that asks the listener to dig a little deeper in their understanding of the story. For example, "If we are not men of honor, we are not men at all." What does Ned mean? How are honor and manhood related?
There are vocabulary words that the child might not know. Even though this section is called Defining Words, there is no definition provided so the listener will have to look them up themselves.
And finally, at the end of the study guide are three short Bible studies that provide and discuss Scriptures that address Godly Character, True Manhood and Confessing Christ.
When you buy the CD you will be sent a link to a slightly longer, full-color PDF study guide that you can print off if you like. We just used it verbally. Me reading off the computer and the kids answering. However, for older kids, or to make this a "real" school study, you could print off the questions and have the kids write out answers in essay-style.
We listened to Under Drake's Flag in two sittings. I had the kids bring out paper and pencils and the big tub of Lego, waited for the baby to be napping and turned on the CD. I expected the kids to object to listening an hour at a time, or to whine or to lose interest and wander away. However, they did none of these things. They listened quietly the entire time. When it came time to listen to the second half, they did not hail it with delight, but they didn't sigh or grimace and not one kid said, "Awww! Do we HAVE to?" Which is high praise from this tough crowd!
Daniel built a ship while he listened.
He also built the prison where the boys were kept and
several winged weapons to come to their rescue.
In addition, when I asked the questions from the study guide they were able to answer almost every one, and remembered parts of the story that even I didn't remember!
I enjoyed this story. Partly for it's own sake, partly because it was quite well done, but mostly because it exposed my kids to high notions of honor and courage and doing the right thing no matter how we feel about it.
This is what the kids had to say:
Kaytie:It was adventurous. I liked it and thought it was interesting because it was a good lesson in history. My favorite part was the fighting, especially where they were escaping from prison. The only problem was the really exciting parts got really loud and I couldn't hear the narrator very well.
Nate:It was fun! It was exciting and there was a lot of fighting. My favorite part was the time when they fought off the Spaniards in the canyon.
Daniel:It was exciting. The best part I liked about it was where they found all the silver. And my favorite part was when Ned killed the shark. I liked all the fighting. I could have done without the kissing.
Abbie:I liked it. Because I liked the fighting. And when Ned saved Anna from the sharks. I liked his father's dagger. I would like to listen to it again.
Since I got so many of my ideas for what to do with history (and science, too) from blogs and websites, I want to at least try to post our history adventures every week. In the planning stages, I pinned a ton of ideas, but only a percentage of those ideas made it onto my personal planning sheet. And then I (sometimes with the kids' input sometimes not) pulled a few activities off the planning sheet and those are the ones we actually did. Those are the ones I will blog about. Hopefully with pictures. :)
Since we did not do a very good job of sticking to the original weekly schedule I made up, I'm just going to do a post for each "topic" as we complete it. We started, naturally, with Creation.
My kids know the creation story pretty well. So we didn't do much. Their favorite kinds of projects involve food, so we devoted a week worth of afternoon snacks to telling the story of Creation:
The jello and the whipped cream represented the separation of the water and the sky. The oreo was supposed to be dirt and the creation of dry land while the yellow sprinkles were for the stars. But we had them on the same day to save time and the girls made moons with their oreos! The whale crackers were for the creation of water creatures and the animal crackers for land animals. We opted not to attempt to eat people but gingerbread men would be a great idea if you wanted to include human creation in your snacks! And then, of course, you could use chamomile tea for the day of rest, but none of my kids would drink it so we didn't try.
What we put in our notebooks:
We ended up with two notebook entries. Creation Wheels, which I found and printed from here. (this link is a PDF and I realize that it is bad etiquette to link to a PDF but I do not remember where I found the link originally and I can not for the life of me find the "real" post on the main site. But the main site is Mary Rice Hopkins and she does have other fun ideas for Bible stories.)
We used the first three drawings: plant/tree, dinosaur and people. I do not know why exactly Newton joined us for this exercise.
Kaytie chose to draw a dinosaur and a plant.
Abbie chose to draw a woman and a tree and turned her picture into Eve and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When I pointed out that Adam was there, too, she explained that he is standing right off the edge of the picture...
Nate chose to draw a rather fierce looking herbivore dinosaur. I am so impressed with how his drawing skills have blossomed in the past few weeks! Last year, his school drawings were all clumsy scribbles and it was impossible to tell the difference between a house and a man. Then, all of a sudden, he just started drawing like this and even he is amazed at the difference!
And then there is Daniel's picture. Yes, the red is all blood from the poor, unfortunate creature the dino is eating.
This is the second week of the school year and we have already skipped a day. Three out of the four kids are suffering from seasonal allergies so we sorta took part of the day off yesterday and kinda made up for it today. We usually don't do school on Fridays, which makes it convenient when you need to make up work. There was a time when skipping a day would have made me twitchy. But I'm pretty much at peace with it now. We got math and reading done (and Nate made sure and did his computer programming) which is what matters, and the rest will get done eventually.
Kaytie drew a Ninja Egg for art class
Up until they started feeling puny, however, we were rocking along just fine. Our schedule is working incredibly well. We are babysitting an adorable little boy this year and he arrives at 7:15. So we are starting school somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00 every day. Which means we can work hard for five hours and be done by lunch! We are all loving that. It gives us the afternoons to indulge in reading, history projects, trips to the park, science experiments and all the "fun" parts of school that we usually drop because we are still doing school well into the afternoon. It's like we have been given a gift of two hours in our day.
Daniel wore a mohawk for the first day of school. Later in the day, his sister sprayed it bright green. He was quite a sight to behold!
Kaytie and Nate have done well with keeping up their schedules. They have worked at their science projects. Kaytie has been reading about weather and taking notes. Nate has done a couple of experiments and will do a report on them next week. He has also been reading Chemistry: the birth of a science and narrating it to me. Both of them have taken the initiative to do the work they can do alone and to make sure I remember the work they need my help with. I am very proud of them!
Nate's science experiment: an egg in vinegar
Independent reading is another thing that has gone over well! Much better than I expected. Every afternoon, while the baby sleeps, I set the timer for 30 minutes and tell the kids to read. It's like candy for Kaytie and Nate, of course, they have been bookworms for years now. This is really more for the benefit of Daniel and Abbie. They have reached the point where they can read almost fluently but they really don't enjoy it yet and never do it voluntarily. The purpose of independent reading is just to give them practice... practice without me sitting beside them so they realize they can experience the stories and the facts and the words all on their own and possibly even find it enjoyable! So far, Abbie reads happily for about 20 minutes and Daniel has managed 15-ish before he gets antsy and starts checking the timer. And this is only after two weeks. I have high hopes as to what they will be doing by the end of the year!
independent reading is more fun when you wear a princess dress
In the interests of complete honesty, I must tell you that there are a few things that we haven't yet managed to pull off. Mostly our afternoon Charlotte Mason activities. There are various reasons for this and we plan to be much better about it starting next week. We haven't started back handicrafts, nature study, or our afternoon read alouds. But all three are firmly penned in starting Tuesday. I'll keep you updated...
anything on the computer is Nate's favorite subject, even math fact drills
There will be a post up soon about our history adventures. I have not been able to keep them in their proper weeks, but, thankfully, my kids are able to make the connections without keeping to the time constraints. In our Mystery of History reading we have made it to the Ice Age. In our activities we are still lingering in the Creation week. But the kids are having fun and I've tried to take pictures to share. But that will be a post of it's own.
Kaytie learning Latin grammar from "the funny dude"
All of our extracurricular activities start next week, except for Scouts, which starts the Monday after Labor Day. The kids are feeling a little overwhelmed, but I think they will get into the swing of things very quickly. We will be doing soccer, two co-ops, Bright Lights for the girls, Scouts for the boys, and an art class for Kaytie. Plus church. We will be busy. But it only lasts a couple of months, then we get a break.
Kaytie making it rain in a jar. Abbie was her photographer.